Being an amateur domestic cook that just so happens to write about his culinary experiences does not come without its own reluctances. Despite my over articulated way of describing what I ate for tea, it does take a lot of courage to share your writing when you have absolutely no cooking qualifications to your name. There’s a lot of courage in sharing any of one’s own creative work in a public sphere, but in a culinary capacity, I’m finding it takes even more courage due to everybody cooking in the quest of chef-like credibility.
I would just like to state here and now, I am never looking for someone to affirm chef-like credibility in my cooking. There’s sometimes a hesitation of credibility and forever a doubt in technique in cooking and I’d like to think this is a reluctance that comes with anybody who has stepped into a Kitchen, whether they write about it or not. However the reason I do write about it, is because I want to remind everybody that this hesitation is okay and to provide a realistic side to the on-going food conversation I see online.
There is a very distinct gap between the professional cook and the amateur cook – the professional and published ‘writers’ and the ones who write for self-fulfilment – and the bridge between said gap is made no sturdier by the tonnes of keyboard blog bashers who want to tell you how to cook and why to cook it. What makes me any different? My documentation of recipes is to champion of my lack of experience, not to apologise for it. I write about food so that I can remind people that it’s just food. It’s not an art piece. It can be delicious, it can be easy and it can be fun. It should not be confined to food trends that will only be in the pan for a moment before being replaced. This is food that has been around and will be around for years. And it’s OK.
“Real” food and great cooking should also not be categorised into the ‘clean eating’ brackets we see day in and day out, which instantly brandishes anything outside of this calorie-less, fun-free diet as ‘dirty’ eating. We don’t all eat this way (let’s not lie here guys, we REALLY don’t) and I was getting very tired of people feeling bad about what they ate when compared to clean eaters. For there to be clean eating, there has to be dirty eating – and there is nothing dirty about the way we eat. I want this blog to be a piece in the conversation about real food, but one that also provides you with easy recipes you can genuinely incorporate into a busy lifestyle. And PS – I still get a kick out of people sending me pictures of food they have cooked from this blog.
I’ve found that how I operate in my own Kitchen is a great metaphor for how I operate in my own life. That is, that I find a lot of comfort in the structure of rules and routines however I also function well with the freedom I have to do whatever I want. It’s this dichotomy I have towards my life and cooking that allows me to write so confidently about my experiences – and that’s because both entities, much like life, come with flaws but are not so strict that you cannot amend and learn from them.
However doing what I do has allowed me to be in the company of several chefs and writers who are more often than not slightly embarrassed to be aligned with a food blogger. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that there will always be a demure digital eyebrow raise to the amateur cooks who share their culinary offerings online without a shred of a professional certificate. However I’m pretty sure that if we all needed a professional diploma to cook something to eat, we would all be dead. So suffice to say I will continue to document my culinary experiences in a hope that I can provide another side to the conversation of food.
I say all this to say, please do not be embarrassed to share your creativity. There’s a stigmatism behind sharing your passion or self-publishing what interests you or makes you happy for fear of being made fun of or not taken seriously. However, if you do what you do for the sake of an applause, your happiness will always be determined by an audience. Get inspired and express your creativity in any form that you feel best showcases your passion.
So this brings me to my stew recipe. The reason I chose this recipe as a punctuation to my point is that I feel a stew is really the trophy piece of a home cook. It’s an old wives recipe that has completely stood the test of time and has seen so many twists and turns I don’t think anybody can actually pinpoint the original and standard recipe. It’s also recipe developments like these that really highlight the creative expression that an amateur cook has access to that is not fortuned to the professional, who have to be confined to guidelines in order to deliver restaurant quality food. Find comfort in your lack of experience and allow the freedom you have to build your confidence in your own Kitchen.
Find your deepest, biggest pan with a lid. Open up a tin of anchovies and chop them up finely. Don’t squirm – they’re beautiful and they’re not fishy tasting, they’re just salty and they provide a beautiful robust base to stews. Melt these down to a loose paste with a little butter in the big pan. Drop in some steak cuts (cubes is fine and roughly 500g, if we’re being technical about it) along with a sprinkle of flour and ‘sear’ them, just browning them to seal in flavour before removing and keeping in a bowl covered with foil.
To the pan of anchovy and steak juices, add some roughly chopped onions, carrots, celery, potatoes (cut into cubes) and add some sea salt before cooking down until everything is slightly softened. Add some roughly chopped mushrooms and stir occasionally until everything begins to soften and create a beautiful flavour base. To this, add a litre of beef stock (use a red OXO cube guys, I’m not precious) followed by a cup of red wine. Give everything a stir.
Add the beef cuts back to the big pan followed by a bay leaf and a rosemary stalk. Bring everything to a boil before dropping to a low simmer. Clamp a lid on the pan and allow to simmer for about 2 hours before serving with some parsley. And we all know I dunked a good amount of bread into it, but that’s just me.
P.S – if you were doing this in a casserole dish, feel free to put it in a preheated oven for 2 hours but remember that technically then makes it a casserole, not a stew. A stew is cooked from bottom up, a casserole is cooked in an oven. I want to call this a stew (because it reminds me of a beefy version of a lamb stew my mum often cooks, and therefore stick to oven tops but it’s your call).
And to finish, trust me when I say – just go with it. I don’t put specific measurements because if you’re anything like me, you’re going to put in however much you want anyway and I totally encourage this logic. So long as you’re cooking some ingredients in a rich liquid on a low heat for a significant amount of time, you’re still cooking a stew.
Get confident in your abilities and be confident in your decision to share them. This stew is just And if it doesn’t go right, who cares? It’s your creativity, you never know – it could be great.